Ecotourism publicity backfiring
CINDY LANE | SUN
New signs listing turtle rules and police
contact numbers were posted on sea turtle
nests on Anna Maria Island last week, partly
in response to a recent disorientation caused
by people who turned a turtle nest hatching
into a party and trampled on hatchlings.
Besides sleuthing on the beaches for nesting and hatching turtles, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers have solved a local mystery by doing an Internet investigation.
Director Suzi Fox has been noticing a new disregard for sea turtles and the laws protecting them, epitomized by especially bad incidents last month when two hatching nests were turned into party venues and a mother turtle was petted and flash photographed while nesting.
The callous and illegal behavior is traceable to vacation rental websites and printed brochures advertising turtle encounters on the Island, Fox said.
Turtle Watch has discovered about 100 vacation rentals so far that will be contacted about their publicity of sea turtles on the Island, she said.
“The wording is all wrong,” she said, adding that some say tourists can pick up a hatchling and have a “hatchling experience.”
Some rentals advertise Turtle Watch’s tours as opportunities to handle turtles, which is against the law, she said. The tours actually demonstrate excavations of nests after the turtles have hatched, and identify turtle tracks leading to newly-laid nests.
After an incident in July in which visitors camped at two loggerhead nests due to hatch, trampling and handling the hatchlings, Turtle Watch removed the anticipated hatching dates from the stakes that protect the nests and posted signs on the stakes last week with police contact numbers.
Most nests hatch at night in darkness and quiet, necessary for the hatchlings to make it to the Gulf and avoid becoming disoriented and die.
Sea turtle nesting on the Island continues to slow, with only two nests laid last week, but the number of hatchlings making it to the Gulf of Mexico rocketed to 7,448 last week from 4,310 the prior week.